As avid travelers, Srishti Mendhekar e Priyansha Mishra I knew that safety is always first and foremost on the minds of fellow travelers. They often wondered what it felt like to travel without constant fear and anxiety… until one day they decided to do something about it.
The duo started On his way, a platform to encourage safe solo travel for women, in January 2022.
Srishti and Priyansha, who are engineering graduates from Manipal Institute of Technology, met while interning at a startup. Familiar interests and backgrounds ensured they clicked instantly, and together they built a musical community for their university: Chords & Co.
After graduation, Priyansha joined Microsoft, where she spent three years working in technical sales and product management, while Srishti joined Glitch (WPP), a marketing leader for women-centric brands.
“We have been travelers all our lives due to our parents’ transferable jobs and our eternal wanderlust. After traveling to over 20 states in India and witnessing the challenges faced by women, we felt we had to change our face of women’s journeys not only in India, but across the world,” says Srishti. HerStory.
Srishti recalls one incident in particular that sparked thoughts about security. On a trip to Himachal Pradesh with other girlfriends, the group booked a stay at a renowned lodge. Although the place was aesthetically pleasing and had a beautiful view of the mountains, and it was love upon arrival, one of Srishti’s friends realized after a couple of hours that the glass in the bathroom window was double vision!
“We least expected this property to have a peephole for a window. None of the reviews we saw mentioned this, no one called them about it. Information about something as crucial as this was missing, which threatened our sense of security,” says Srishti.
For Priyansha, a trip to Ladakh acted as a trigger. “When I was looking for safe places to stay, I faced a lot of challenges finding relevant information online. There were some very highly rated stays that I thought were great, but after digging down to the fourth page I would find that ONE review that said something like “there are no street lights in the area,’ which would become a solution for me. The opinions of other women relevant to my concerns were hard to come by, which only increased my anxiety about my safety in these spaces.”
The experiences made them realize that the concerns of women and men while traveling are clearly different.
“Women have needs and issues, which can be broadly categorized into safety and hygiene, and no one is solving it. The current travel ecosystem is made by men for men. We want to change that,” says Srishti.
After quickly coming up with a plan, the young entrepreneurs sought feedback from fellow travelers who had experienced the reality of solo travel in and around India.
On Her Way launched in January 2022 while female entrepreneurs were still researching the various aspects of women’s journeys. The duo quit their jobs in mid-2022 to work on it full-time. A few months later, they also ran the idea through IIM Bangalore’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Program and gradCapital’s eHer, a student startup accelerator.
When travel and business come together
With On Her Way, Srishti and Priyanshi want to build for the “invisible woman traveler” who, they believe, plays a very important role in the travel ecosystem, but has yet to have her needs met by travel companies. “It actually influences 80% of travel decisions in a market that reaches $500 billion globally,” says Srishti.
One of the concepts pioneered on the platform was ‘Local Gal Pal’, which ensured that solo female travelers who registered on the platform were introduced to a local woman at their travel destination. This person would provide all the necessary information and ensure that help was available at all times. This service is now offered exclusively to members of the On Her Way community. Srishti and Priyansha say that the local friend, handpicked by them, is always found through referrals and is only brought on board after several rigorous background checks.
The On Her Way community has more than 3,000 women, and more than 500 of them have trusted the platform to help them travel better through its various pilot programs.
While the women traveler community is still a work in progress, Srishti reports that they recently brought in the founding members of the community. “We offer them unusual experiences and connections in their own cities, exclusive retreats to great destinations, 100% support to safely plan their trips and much more. These founding members, while enjoying all of this, will help us shape the core of platform and adapt the solution for them, from day one,” he adds.
The two-woman army, which has a group of interns working at their company, has also actively started curating and creating different programs for the community. Recently, they launched the #SafeSpaces initiative in Goa, which received a lot of appreciation in the state.
“With this initiative, we aim to make nightlife, one of the most integral parts of Goa tourism, safer for women travelers. We handpicked 10 bars and worked with them to create a safe space for women to be themselves without inhibitions,” says Priyansha.
Under the initiative, the travel company sought engagement from bars to actively build a safe space for women, trained bar staff on bystander intervention and helped them understand the right way to intervene when a woman in the space feels uncomfortable or insecure They also ensured that designated staff were recognizable through badges and were accessible if a woman needed support.
Lastly, the initiative has also seen them introduce a code word shot that can be used as a signal to communicate distress in selected bar spaces.
All this work was not easy, as determined entrepreneurs had to constantly hear that they are solving for a “niche” market, “even though statistics show that women are the majority,” remarks Srishti. But, the duo has learned to defy perceptions. “When running many of our projects with partner dependencies, there would be a general lack of confidence in two women in their twenties. We are ready to prove each of them wrong as we scale this globally,” he adds.
Going forward, Srishti and Priyansha aim to grow the On Her Way community across all major cities and tourist destinations in India by February next year, and across Asia by the end of 2023. About the competition, Srishti says that goLightly in the West is an attempt to create a members-only platform for the region, which is getting a lot of love. “However, in India, there is no major player working on a solution like ours.”
The company is backed and funded by gradCapital and was part of the first cohort of the Antler India residency. “We are gearing up for our next round soon and want to enable one billion women to travel fearlessly,” concludes Srishti.